The Need to Belong: More Outsiders in Outlander


 Written by: Jayne Coleman



Outsiders don’t fit in. That is their key characteristic. They fly solo through life. As humans, we conform to the expectations of the group(s) we belong to as this makes it easier to fit in and be accepted. But not everyone does so successfully. Like a dark thread in the weft of a plaid, outsiders pick their way through life – sometimes part of the pattern and sometimes not, but always distinguishable.

As a follow up to my first post about "Outsiders in Outlander,"  it's time to take a closer look at some of those dark threads and how they bring character, conflict and interest into the Outlander series. And since we're talking about dark threads, I mine as well start with the darkest thread of all – Black Jack Randall, the key villain of Outlander and Dragonfly In Amber...

Jonathan Wolverton Randall - aka Black Jack Randall



Oh how we all love to hate Black Jack. So what is his story? How did he end up a sociopathic sadist?

We have only minor clues to guide us. He may not have ended up like this if his life had been different given the way we see his love and devotion for his brother, Alex. Then again, he may have anyway if he suffered from an underlying personality disorder. We don’t know if he tortured pets as a child, was abused at boarding school or in the army or any number of "red flag" behaviors that typically befall sociopaths. Maybe he contracted syphilis and had to suffer it destroying his brain. The point is, we just don't know.  We don’t know what the triggers were, but we do know that he ends up a man who delights not only in the physical torture others, but also in the psychological torture. These are not the actions and reactions of a completely sane man.

Breaking his victim’s spirits gives Jack a high. What I find most disturbing about Black Jack is the intelligence he wields in his persecution of his victims. He is no mindless brute. He is completely aware of what he does, and plans and implements his tortures specifically for the victim under his hands. He understands the deepest fears of his victims and exploits them for his own pleasure. There is a cold deliberation that is absolutely chilling. He reminds me of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Dr Goebbels, and the way he went about the destruction of Jews in Europe. There is a similar complete lack of empathy for suffering or humanity allied to intelligence and insight.

His ability to play the insider enables him to get away with his crimes, but Black Jack is – at heart – a perpetual outsider. He knows how to find powerful patrons and friends who will shield him from the consequences of his actions. He makes sure he stays useful because then those in his circle allow him to continue his activities as long as they can remain secret. He employs charm to hide the monster inside. Tobias Menzies captures this duality and inhabits the dark and twisted soul of Black Jack to perfection. We are attracted while we are repelled, much like a cobra and a mouse.


Franklin Wolverton Randall – aka Frank



Black Jack’s great xxxxx nephew, Frank, is also his alter ego. He is the man Jonathan could have become – suave, sophisticated and erudite. He is also a complex man who loves Claire and Bree, no matter what. So how is Frank an outsider?

It starts with his time during the World War II, serving with the ‘funny buggers.’ Anyone who serves in the Secret Services (known in the 18th century as Black Chambers) lives a hidden life that separates them from day to day life. He was responsible for sending men and women to their deaths and it weighs on him. Because so much of his work was top secret, he could not talk about it to anyone. He’s also an English gentleman of an era where men did not talk about nor show their emotions. Bottled up, reserved and intense, his only release is sex... and this is mostly denied to him by circumstances. He and Claire married in 1939 and almost immediately separated. They had only just reunited and were trying to find their way back to one another on their second honeymoon in Scotland when Claire disappears for another three years. There is no doubt that, for him, Claire is the love of his life but he has her for such a short time, mere months within the years.

Her disappearance is traumatic. When someone disappears with no explanation, the one left behind has to grapple with endless questions and uncertainty. Unlike death, there is no closure because hope always lingers that the one lost will be found or reappear. The Inverness police are sure that Claire has run off with another man, and Frank has to consider that such a betrayal is a real possibility. Then there is suicide – unlikely, but still a realistic probability that must be contemplated as does the idea that Claire might have been abducted against her will. Despite all of these plausible scenarios to explain her vanishing, he continues to believe that Claire loves him and would not have abandoned him by choice. He spends months using every source at his disposal to try and find Claire, all to no avail. In the end, he has to try and move on with his life.
Just as he manages to do this, Claire miraculously returns. However, it's a poisoned miracle for Frank considering she comes back pregnant with another man’s child, obviously grieving his loss. The medical staff are convinced she is delusional and in shock. Their considered opinion after listening to her story of stones, the 1740s and Culloden is that she is not completely sane. So Frank has to deal with a crazy, pregnant wife returned from the dead who rejects him and is quite blunt that she no longer loves him. Tobias Menzies once again gave a superb performance in episode one of season 2. I certainly cried for both of them.

I believe one must have sympathy for Frank’s predicament and feelings. He lives outside the blessed circle of Claire’s love. He chooses to make do and accept he is second best – not an easy thing for a man of pride and honour – but he is willing to do so, motivated by love and honour in equal parts. The long-term stress this puts him under eventually causes the erosion of his love and devotion for Claire – something we will, undoubtedly, have an opportunity to see in season 3.


Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser




Dour, hard-to-win-over, cautious Murtagh is Jamie’s godfather and protector. By nature a loner, he is deeply loyal to those he loves, few though they may be. Murtagh is a man of few words but quick to action when required, especially if decisive action is required in the face of imminent danger. #EverybodyNeedsAMurtagh has become an Outlander fan cry – we would ALL love to have a guardian like him.

I have always found it interesting that we know very little of Murtagh and his past. He reminds me of an early Pictish warrior – it’s as if he comes from an older time with links to ancient ways. He is, essentially, solitary and introverted. Uprooted from his native soil, he is deeply uncomfortable in France and fails to thrive. He will survive, though – he’s too tough and ornery not too.  But if anyone was happy when they landed back in Scotland, it was definitely Murtagh. He needs the bracing Scottish weather and stony mountains to come into his own again. Training the troops is archetypal Murtagh – the original Sergeant Major who terrifies all the rookies into submission and is able to get them to march in line and in time. 

So too, is his promise to Jamie – ‘I’ll see the men safe on their way to Lallybroch but I will be waiting when you come back.’ There is no way Murtagh would allow Jamie to go into the toughest battle of
his life without being at his side. He will pay whatever cost is required without question. His loyalty is stronger than steel, his honour absolute, his determination adamant.


Bonnie Prince Charlie – Prince Tearlach



Mark me Obsessanachs, the Bonnie Prince has to be the character who most irritated fans. His story is, however, tragic in many ways. Born in exile and died in exile, he was never able to reach the destiny he believed he was born to fulfil. A young man of great charm and promise, Prince Charles failed – in large part because he was an outsider. He failed to understand Scotland, the Chiefs, the Clans. He failed to understand England, the English and the common people. Instead he imbibed a faulty mythology of both Scotland and England, which bore little resemblance to reality.
His great potential died on Culloden Moor, just as the Clan system did. It became the inevitable climax of his mission to claim Scotland, England and Wales for the Stuarts. Charles believed that the people of Britain would welcome him – the rightful heir to the throne with open arms – take up arms and help him to overthrow the usurper Hanoverians. He did not understand that the Scottish Chiefs and their followers were not interested in winning England. He failed to understand that the common English people enjoyed a level of prosperity, religious and political freedom under King George that was never experienced under the Stuarts.

This failure led to a widening gulf between himself and his principal supporters. As the gulf widened, he clung more and more to his old Irish supporters who had raised him in Italy. He playacted at being Scottish, wearing silk tartan with gold lace, instead of good Scottish wool. The goodwill he had engendered through his actions at the start of the campaign eroded as the Highlanders reluctantly followed him into England. It bled away as they marched to and fro, barefoot, in rags and starving into a bitter winter. Those who had sacrificed the most – and had the most to lose in the event of the Rising failing – were spurned leading to bitterness and animosity. 

When he finally rode roughshod over the advice of the Clan Chieftains and insisted on fighting on Drumossie Moor, he finally killed any spark of enthusiasm in all but the most dedicated of his followers. The men who went to fight at Culloden were exhausted, famished and heartsick. They knew, as the Bonnie Prince did not, that most of their bodies would lie on that moor at the end of the battle. Despite this, they picked up their weapons, such as they were, and made the last Highland charge on Scottish soil. 

That loss marked the end of the Scottish Clan system, the destruction of the Clans themselves and the deaths of innumerable of those Prince Charles had claimed as his own people a few short months before.

Tearlach’s Year had ended in blood and slaughter. The stories that rose around him in the years following built the mythology of the Bonnie Prince – the doomed, romantic hero. The reality is that he finally ended in Italy, where he had started, with nothing but shattered dreams and a taste for alcohol that destroyed him in the long term. He became the Beggar Prince, the Bonnie Prince having died at Culloden.


Claudel "Fergus" Fraser




Fergus never knew his mother or father. Raised in Madame Elise’s brothel by the prostitutes who worked there, he was a street urchin and pickpocket. He knew what it meant to be an outsider from the get-go. He did what was necessary to survive and developed quick fingers and great charm as tools in his survival kit. He is comfortable with living on the shady side of the law – whether as a pickpocket, spy or smuggler.

When Jamie takes him on as an employee at age 10, Fergus is given an opportunity to belong to someone. He develops a profound loyalty to the man who will become his father in all but law and, as a result, Fergus shapes much of his morals and behaviour on Jamie’s example. Claire becomes his surrogate mother, although he always addresses her as ‘Milady’ and Jamie as ‘Milord’ – even as an adult. His desire to please them, and his desolation when Jamie is incarcerated in the Bastille, leaves to him blame himself for Jamie challenging Black Jack to the duel.

(Editor's warning: Season 3 spoilers ahead! Do not read if you have not read "Voyager.")
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When Claire leaves and Jamie returns from Culloden, Fergus becomes part of Jenny’s brood, loved and disciplined just like her own children. Through the years when Jamie lives in the cave at Lallybroch, it is Fergus who ensures he has food and beer, and brings him news of the family and the district. His first loyalty is always to Jamie, the man who saved him from the brothels and stews of Paris. This devotion causes Fergus to lose his hand. That sabre stroke separates his youth from his adulthood. The consequences stretch far into the future as Fergus continuously struggles to fulfil his ideas of what it means to be a man.


Ian Murray – Ian Mhor


Ian Murray experiences the difficulties of being an outsider when he returns from France having lost a leg. He considers that he has lost his role as a man, along with his leg – he can no longer fight and the daily business of life on a farm is difficult. His struggles to salvage and then retain his sense of himself as a man – “no small thing to be” when you factor in the love and stubbornness of Jenny, Jamie’s older sister. 

Ian reclaims himself so successfully that he becomes once more an insider – someone who is essential to the survival and well-being of Lallybroch, and all who live and depend on it. Before they leave to join the Prince, Jenny says to Jamie, ‘…he is a whole man to me, and always will be.’ When  asked by Jamie if he would accompany them to war, Ian ends by saying, “I shall stay here… Guardin’ your weak side, man.”


Geillis Duncan




The first real friend Claire makes is another outsider, Geillis Duncan, aka Gillian Edgars. Geillis is an uncomfortable woman, a rebel, a woman who refuses to accept boundaries and does what she wishes regardless of who is in her way. She is a witch in an era where witchcraft is shunned and feared – an era she deliberately chose to go to in pursuit of her passion for Scotland and its independence.
Geillis also continues to be a witch, regardless. She dances naked in the woods by moonlight where none can see her – an expression of her rebellious, yet secretive nature. She uses sex and men for her own ends, but despises them for their stupidity. Geillis has one real loyalty, and that is to Scotland and the Stuart cause. Her husbands are merely tools she uses to get more money for the Jacobites. 

She is also a psychopath and serial murderer of at least two husbands – Greg Edgars and the Procurator Fiscal Duncan. The people of Cranesmuir reject her, partly for her crimes and partly because they perceive her as evil and sinful. She is charged with breaking the strict rules of the time, especially in a small village where everyone knows what their neighbours are up to and petty feuds can escalate rapidly into something very ugly, as we saw so vividly in "The Devils Mark." 

The court didn’t have to go far to find witnesses for the prosecution. Laoghaire, Father Bain, Geillis’s maid plus a host of others all got up to tell their tales – a mix of spite, rumour, imagination and a smidgen of truth to add savour to the scandal broth. Each one was motivated by some grievance, both minor and major. All show how "alien" the locals truly view Geillis and Claire. They just didn’t fit in. They were outsiders and, therefore, fair game. 

A well-known propaganda technique is pinpointing the enemy – find a scapegoat for all the ills you experience. The easiest targets are newcomers and strangers. They have no one to stand pledge for their veracity or character. This validates Jamie’s fear and heroic actions in the church. He knows, all too well, how proof can be trampled underfoot by prejudice and superstition. And as Frank explained to Claire at the beginning of the book Outlander,There is no place on earth with more of the old 
superstitions and magic mixed into its daily life than the Scottish highlands.” And that was in the 1940s, not the 1740s!


Mary Hawkins


Mary Hawkins ends up an outsider as a result of her rape. A young woman from a good (even if impoverished) family, she becomes a pariah and outcast with little or no future... except to be sold to an old man who would accept her as ‘damaged goods’. Society’s rejection of her due to circumstances beyond her control leaves her at the mercy of her unscrupulous godfather, Lord Sandringham.

When Mary takes control of her life by escaping with Claire and Murtagh from Sandringham’s home, she breaks ties with society’s rules too. She grabs what happiness she can with Alex Randall despite the stigma she would experience if people knew they were not married. They live intensely for the few short months of Alex’s life, and when he dies she stops caring what happens to her next. Mary is utterly desolate. Any social standing she may have gained through her marriage to Black Jack Randall, short lived as it was, is lost despite bearing the Randall name legitimately through her marriage to Black Jack.

Mary and Claire’s stories run parallel in many ways. Claire is forced to leave Jamie and believes he is dead while carrying his child, just as Mary is carrying Alex’s child knowing he is dead. Both are linked by their marriages to Randalls, just generations apart.

Master Raymond – The Mysterious Outlander Outsider




Master Raymond, the Parisian apothecary, is by far the most mysterious of Outlander characters we meet. Magician, sorcerer, seller of poisons, abortifacients, snake oil potions and more mundane herbal cures... (breath)... fortune teller, demonist, cabalist, healer – he is all of these, in one guise or another. 

His appearance – that of a genial frog, short stature, and strange choice in clothing adorned with arcane symbols – marks him out from the ordinary run of mortals. His shop is decorated to enhance his own oddity, although the weirdest items in his collection are kept safely hidden in the back room warded by cabalist symbols. He is viewed with fear and suspicion by the local populace, used by the aristocracy for their nefarious needs and is friend to both Claire and the Comte Ste Germaine. 

No one really knows where he comes from and his past is shrouded in enigma. His position in society is equally murky. Raymond is even more of an outsider than Claire but, much how a frog camouflages and hides itself, so too is he able to obscure who he is from casual inspection. He is a great gatherer and keeper of secrets and yet has a deep understanding of human nature, allied to his ability to see human auras. This enables him to identify Claire’s need for an outlet for healing by pointing her in the direction of L’Hopitale Des Anges and Mother Hildegard.

His intentions towards Claire are not clear at first and yet, ultimately, are benign. He goes to the hospital, at great risk to himself, to heal Claire of the postpartum infection that would have killed her. It is interesting however, that Bouton, that canine seeker of infection, avoids Master Raymond, not unlike how a dog will avoid a wolf. Many readers and viewers are hoping that Master Raymond will reappear in the story at some point in the story. We have a soft spot for this eccentric character.

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All throughout Outlander, we meet stories of outsiders – all with different reasons for why they can be identified as such. Neuroscientist Beau Lotto once said, “Sharing our understanding narratively allows others to know why we are the way we are. The world we perceive isn’t actually the world itself — it’s our own story of the world, based on our knowledge and what we’ve learned from others. That story contains things that actually happened, and it contains things we’ve just imagined, like mythology, religion, fairy tales, fiction and so on.” 

Most of us will not ever have to go through the Outlander characters' vicissitudes, however, we can learn something to apply to our lives. Diana Gabaldon permits us to see her characters' struggles – whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Her stories allow us to turn a magnifying glass or microscope on the human condition, whether we know it well from our own life's experience or not. 


What is the lesson that you have learned from the Outlander outsiders? How have they changed your perceptions of the world you inhabit? Which character do you identify with – Jack, Frank, Fergus, Geillis, Mary or Master Raymond?
Please let me know what you think.

13 comments

  1. Re: BJR - LOVE the syphillis angle. Your article really makes one think.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that Annla - that was the idea. And if Geillis could be suffering from late stage syphilitic insanity, why not BJR?

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  2. If BJR was suffering from syphilis, what does that mean for Jamie and Claire? I just read that after the first two stages, it might lay latent for 10-30 years if it develops into the third stage. That angle is very interesting but very disturbing. I think BJR is just terribly sick. It is difficult being the middle child, particularly a male child in that era I suspect.
    Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

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    1. Thanks for the comments Beth. I was trying to think of medical reasons for his behaviour and this was one that stuck out as the most likely given his implied promiscuity. I personally think it was a psychiatric disorder such as being a sociopath and sadomasochist. I had always assumed he was the eldest child and felt very protective of Alex as the younger son. This was the one real relationship he seems to have had in his life. Thanks again for commenting. Jayne

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  3. Very interesting musing Jayne, I always thought his psychiatric illness was aggrevated by the war,killings bloodshed and being in charge gave him hedonistic pleasure also,but he was one sick son of a b.There was 3 Randall sons the oldest John,then BJR then Alex its in one of the books.

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    1. They definitely played a role in the escalation of his behaviour Zsuzsip. One thing I didn't explore was the possibility of PTSD as a trigger for some of his behaviours. It could be a classic the abused becomes the abuser situation. Also the dominance and submission aspect of his tortures seem to be similar to S&M practices but without a safe word - not that I know very much about that! Thanks for clarifying the brothers line up. Appreciate the thoughtful input. Jayne

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  4. Interesting observations and comments! Many of them seem to weave in and out, amongst each other. Do you think Master Raymond is a traveler?

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  5. I think that looking at the characters through this particular lens allowed me to see certain similarities between them. I think Master Raymond must be a traveller - I think that is a lot of the source of his mystery. If he dips in and out of time then he doesn't have a backstory in that particular time. I know that I wondered if he wasn't the guide for the native Americans who went back. I have seen some discussion that he is in fact Claire's ancestor. Perhaps we'll find out more in Book 9 or 10?

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  6. Thanks for this lovely analysis of the periphery characters, Jayne. Loyal Murtagh is one of my favourite characters; a "still waters run deep" kind of man. His love for Jamie's mother and protective instincts for Jamie are endearing qualities. Young Fergus is the perfect foil for his gruff exterior. I will miss him after Culloden.

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    1. Thanks so much or commenting Mrs Gow. We will all miss Murtagh and young Fergus. They are special characters. Glad you fond the post interesting.

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  7. Thank you for this insightful read. I am a big Murtaugh fan. I enjoyed the analysis of these complex "outsider" characters.

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    1. Diana Gabaldon does write such complex characters - they are very seldom what they seem on a first read or viewing. To quote Shrek - they are like onions - multi-layered. And some of them, like onions, can make us cry. Glad you enjoyed the piece on Murtagh Debbie. Jayne

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